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Homeownership fell across all age groups in the first quarter of the year, but declines were greatest not among younger Americans under 35 who have been having problems getting financing and finding homes to buy but among middle aged households over 45, which traditionally register the highest homeownership rates but suddenly registered significant decreases.

Middle Aged Homeownership Plummets

Homeownership fell across all age groups in the first quarter of the year, but declines were greatest not among younger Americans under 35 who have been having problems getting financing and finding homes to buy but among middle aged households over 45, which traditionally register the highest homeownership rates but suddenly registered significant decreases.

According to the latest Census Bureau data, the national homeownership rate fell by .4 percent in the first quarter to 65 percent, its lowest since 1995, and a surprise to many observers in light of the recovering housing economy. Even more surprising was the steep decline among middle aged householders who traditionally score the highest homeownership rates of all age groups.

Homeownership fell more among those age 45 to 54 than any other age group, declining .8 points from 72.1 to 71.3 percent, the first quarterly decline since 2011. The new rate for the age group is lower than it has been at any time during the housing recession. Householders age 55 to 64 saw their homeownership rate fall .6 percent, from 76.7 to 77 percent. By contrast, those under 35 lost only .3 percent on their homeownership rate.

“The number has gone down for middle-aged people because they’re the ones who lost their homes to foreclosure,” Brad Hunter, chief economist for Metrostudy, told the Wall Street Journal. “The uptick among young people is what we can describe as the allure of newly rising prices and low interest rates.”

However, the numbers of bank repossessions due to foreclosure have been generally declining over the past year. Bank repossessions did increase 9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 over the third quarter, yet they were still down 14 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011. During the first quarter of this year, repossessions have declined. Lenders repossessed 43,597 properties nationwide in March, the lowest since September 2007. U.S. bank repossessions in March decreased 3 percent from February and were down 21 percent from a year ago, according to RealtyTrac.

Short sales may have more to do with turning middle aged homeowners into renters than foreclosures. Short sales now account for virtually the same volume as foreclosures. RealtyTrac reported short sales accounted for 22 percent of all homes sold last year. REO and pre-foreclosure sales accounted for only 21 percent of all sales.

Short sales of properties not in foreclosure accounted for an estimated 22 percent of all U.S. residential sales in 2012 and increased 4 percent from 2011. Non-foreclosure short sales nationwide accelerated throughout the year, increasing from the previous quarter in each quarter. Fourth quarter non-foreclosure short sales increased 2 percent from the third quarter and were up 17 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011, reaching a seven-quarter high.

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